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June 11, 2004

Magic Malik Orchestra: A Review

By Haz Samuel

The smallish audience at Club Iguana settled in to await the start of the show as the five musicians and the sound engineer fiddled onstage with their equipment.
The master of ceremonies, noting “technical difficulties”, asked for our patience; meanwhile, I idly mused on the incongruity of a handful of young musicians calling themselves an “orchestra”. {{more}} But by the end of the too-short set, the thought had been put entirely out of my mind as – after apologizing for the late start – Malik Mezzadri, flautist and leader of the Magic Malik Orchestra, led his group on an exhilarating tour of an international musical landscape soaring through a set that ranged from the music of North Africa to the Andes, with stops in Europe and the Caribbean en route.
Born in Cote d’Ivoire, raised in Guadeloupe and resident of Paris, Malik is widely regarded as a virtuoso in the vanguard of a new generation of musicians who are creating what is being referred to as European New Jazz – an imprecise merger of elements taken from traditional acoustic jazz, world music and techno/club styles, but with an emphasis on the polyrhythmic improvisations of the pure jazz form.
Heavy on club-influenced bass lines and fortified with ethnic infusions, this is not the jazz fusion of the 70s – which relied on a relatively narrow base of influences – but a seemingly wider-ranging effort to reconcile the traditions of jazz with the imperatives of a young, restless, continent-hopping audience.
The group’s opening number, Passage à Vide, began with a haunting, solo flute intro to a piece that, by virtue of its clever rhythmic structure and off-beat timing, evoked a march towards some mysterious destination. The effect was slightly disconcerting, yet there was a sense that we had embarked on a strange, new journey – with guides who, happily, proved up to the task. There was not a sheet of music in sight, yet the musicians were as relaxed and self-assured as if they had just stepped into their studio for an impromptu rehearsal.
Sometimes blowing into an empty bottle, other times singing-blowing into his instrument or chanting over the music, Malik was everywhere. With a grin on his face and an endless stream of musical ideas flowing from his lips, he was consistently the brilliant inventor, delving into his reservoir of ideas and influences and revealing a restless creativity – truly “the man of the moment” as the Alliance Française poster proudly proclaimed.
The bass player, the diminutive Sarah Murcia, had lost her upright-bass to a mishap on the flight from St. Lucia and was forced to borrow an electric bass from a local musician, but this proved to be no loss; her cool, insistent bass-lines amply anchored the rhythm section which, with Maxime Zampieri on drums and Or Solomon on keyboards, provided the ideal foil for the improvisations of the frontmen.
But it was left to saxophonist Dennis Guivarch to steal the show and remind the audience that jazz was indeed the foundation of the entire enterprise, with his towering solo on the aptly titled Pandemonium. Flinging himself into his solo on top of an already noisy ensemble, he brought the whole business to the very edge of collapse into violent chaos – but the entropy was contained, the centre held together by the sheer, raw virtuosity of the musicians, and the effect was simply staggering.
Called back for an encore, the musicians launched into Ave Maria, which was a revelation. Played in the deceptively simple style of a French island folk tune with repeated verses, it started off serenely enough, but with the musicians inexorably increasing the tempo after each verse, the piece was transformed into a climactic crescendo of brilliant sound crashing down in waves onto an astonished audience.
It was altogether a too brief but very exciting evening for music lovers, and the Alliance Française is to be congratulated on bringing the group over from the St. Lucia Jazz Festival to spread some of their magic here. Might we add: Encore?